02/26/09 5:15 PM EST
Davis next in Rays' arm assembly line
Promising righty silences Yankees in first Grapefruit League start
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Davis started for the Rays in front of 10,693 fans at George M. Steinbrenner Field and mowed through the six hitters he faced in two innings, allowing no hits, no walks and striking out three -- including Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
"I was throwing strikes," Davis said. "That was my biggest thing today, throwing strikes. I knew they'd probably be taking a little bit. I felt pretty good."
Davis said that having an outing like he did against the Yankees was a confidence booster, while Rays manager Joe Maddon gushed about the virtues of the 23-year-old.
"I just liked the aggressiveness, the fastball command, pitching inside, the breaking ball for a strike when he wanted to," Maddon said. "He did a lot of good things today."
Davis went 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA in 28 starts in 2008 for Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, setting career highs for wins, starts and innings pitched. He is listed at No. 32 on Baseball America's list of the top 100 prospects in the game, and he has been an All-Star in four of his five Minor League seasons.
At the Major League level, the Rays have a rotation that includes Scott Kazmir, James Shields, Matt Garza, Andy Sonnanstine and whichever pitcher wins the competition for the No. 5 spot among David Price, Mitch Talbot, Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel. That plethora of pitching combined with the fact that Davis is coming up through the ranks means the Rays have a pleasant problem.
"We talk about [the organization's pitching depth] all the time," Maddon said, and it's great to see it for me, because I've heard about it. When I saw him last year, he didn't look near as aggressive as he did today."
Davis, who hails from nearby Lake Wales (Fla.) High School, doesn't appear to be the sort to get too impressed with himself.
"It's early," said Davis of Thursday's outing. "I know they're going to get better and I'm going to get better. It was fun, though."
Two games into the Grapefruit League season, pitchers aren't yet at their sharpest, and neither are the hitters. To that end, Davis threw mostly fastballs with only a couple of breaking pitches. At this juncture, he's working primarily on his fastball command.
"Since we've got a long Spring Training, [by the] second, third, fourth start, I'll start seeing if I can work a couple of things in there," Davis said.
Davis rediscovered that he needed to pitch off his fastball in 2008 after straying from the most basic of pitching game plans.
"[I'm going to do] what I've always done, attacking hitters," Davis said. "I kind of got away from that, and it took me a little while to slap myself in the face and get it going again. I was just a little too cute with my pitches instead of just going right after the hitters."
Davis knows that the field is crowded with young arms throughout the Rays organization, particularly at the top. So when he was asked about his expectations for the coming season, he didn't bite.
"It's not up to me," Davis said. "I enjoy being around these guys. It's a great group of guys to be around and learn from. [Thursday's start was] a good opportunity for me to go out there and showcase a little bit, and face some of the bigger-name guys that hopefully I'll get to face down the road at some point. So it's definitely a good thing."
But Davis didn't back down when asked if he felt ready to pitch in the Major Leagues.
"I feel like I'm ready to compete against anybody," Davis said. "I can always get better. There's always a lot to learn. So we'll see what happens."
Maddon allowed that from what he has been told by people in the organization, Davis isn't far from the Major Leagues.
"That's good, what we saw today," Maddon said. "That stuff pitches in the big leagues."
Maddon then employed a saying by former Major Leaguer and current Rays Minor League pitching instructor Dick Bosman: "He just needs a little more mileage."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.